By Nick Anstett
Elm Staff Writer
Dystopias are the new vampire romance. From bookshelves to movie screens, we’ve become accustomed to seeing attractive young heroes and heroines attempting to topple tyrannical governments in vaguely science fiction settings. “The Giver” joins the likes of “Divergent” and “The Hunger Games” as the latest entry into this growing pantheon. Based on the admittedly classic and innovative novel by Lois Lowry, “The Giver,” directed by Phillip Noyce, is a decidedly average and disturbingly distilled film.
Jonas (Brenton Thwaites) lives in a world of sameness and order. Emotions, perception, and community are kept in order and check by a mysterious council of elders that has restructured society presumably for the greater good. Upon their 18th birthday, Jonas and his friends (Cameron Monaghan and Odeya Rush) are assigned positions in the community correlating to their individual skills. Jonas, blessed with a unique perception of the world, is selected to be the community’s next “Receiver of Memory.” Under the tutelage of the Giver (Jeff Bridges), Jonas gains knowledge of the world that was and carries with him a hope for a better future.
It’s hard not to watch “The Giver” and feel a genuine lack of sincerity on the part of its message. For all its preaching about the dangers of conformity and the importance of human emotion and variety, everything about Noyce’s direction and the script by Michael Mitnick and Robert B. Waide feels indifferent and pedestrian. Instead of attempting to embrace the subtleties of Lowry’s novel or even crafting a dystopia with a distinct identity, “The Giver” tries desperately to emulate its peers. Its cast of characters are older than those in the book and are cast with attractive, and ultimately bland, young starlets. Unnecessary action sequences are inserted into the film’s overblown conclusion. A love triangle is slipped in for those still hankering for the tritest trop of this burgeoning genre. It’s not so bad as it is upsettingly familiar. It’s as if “The Giver” is actively attempting to rob itself of identity.
There are aspects where “The Giver” does step ever so slightly into something worth remembering. Jeff Bridges is dependably strong as the title character even if the film won’t rank amongst his highest performances. Alexander Skarsgard and Katie Holmes turn in some of the most complicated acting of the film as Jonas’s loyal but emotionally distant and skeptical dogmatic parents.
However, there is one brief sequence in which The Giver transcends its trappings and just for a moment instills a sense of awe. Jonas has been raised in a colorless world, one of the many aspects of reality that have been taken away by the council of elders. When the Giver breaks this barrier by showing Jonas a gorgeous oceanic sunset, the film jumps to life in a display of stunning visual contrast and true wonder. It’s a brief celebration of the world and humanity itself that peeps its head out before disappearing once more into indifference.